The Elusive Kashmir Sapphires
It was a cold November day of 2015 in Geneva when Ronny Totah got the phone call. It was about a Sapphire coming up for auction. And not any ordinary Sapphire, it was the finest Sapphire known to exist, the elusive Kashmir Sapphire. The bidding for this Sapphire would open at just 12 million Dollars and this was an invitation to Ronny Totah to attend a viewing of the Sapphire in New York before the bidding. The description and details sounded hauntingly familiar.
The Kashmir Sapphire Bracelet that was stolen from the Four Seasons in Milan in 1996
If someone knew the value of a Kashmir Sapphire and as someone who could afford it, Ronny Totah, the partner in the Jewellery House, Horovitz and Totah was the man. But the phone call got Ronny thinking about an incident that took place 20 years ago from that date. Horovitz and Torah had an exclusive Kashmir Sapphire set in a Cartier bracelet which was supposed to be put up in an auction exclusively of Cartier pieces. And a few days before the Auction some of the pieces were put up on display at the exclusive Four Seasons Hotel in Milan. It was the November of 1996. On the fateful day there were 50 people in the Exhibition Hall and the unthinkable happened. The Cartier bracelet with the Kashmir Sapphire disappeared. Seemingly into thin air it seemed. At that time.
A Pic of the Sapphire Mine by LaTouche
So where did these exclusive Kashmir Sapphires come from ? Like with all famous precious stones there are several versions to this story. A popular version goes like this. A Group of Lahouli traders turned at a Jewelers shop in Shimla and what caught the Jewelers eye were the brilliant Blue Sapphires they had to offer. And of course the Lahouli traders were averse to stating the exact origin of the Stones for obvious reasons. On being further pressed for information they conceded that they got the stones from the Mountains on the border with Zanskar. And apparently they didn't know the exact location as they in turn had got the Stones from a Shikari who had lost his flint. And he wanted to light his smoke. So he looked around for a quartz or a hard stone and found a blue stone which served his purpose rather well. He decided to carry it and later on gave it to one of the Lahouli traders. Even Shikari saab wasn't too sure where he found the Stones.
A Pic of the Apparatus used for Mining by LaTouche
But the news of the Blue Sapphires spread in Shimla and soon a few more stones turned and sooner rather than later the news wafted across and reached the the ears of the Maharajah in who’s realm these Stones originated. And he got his men working. Soon it was heard that the Stones had their origin in Padar, a Valley along the Chenab which bordered Himachal on one side and Zanskar on the other side. But initially it was mistaken as Padam instead of Padar so guys turned up in Padam in Zanskar looking for the whereabouts of the source of these priceless stones. But finally Padar was identified as the source and a body of Maharaja’s soldiers were dispatched to secure the Mine for the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir or the “Maharaja of Kashmir” as was more commonly known and hence the Sapphires got a name. The Kashmir Sapphires.
An unknown Trekker sitting in front of one of the Mine Shafts in the 80’s.
It was in 1882 when the Mine was secured and samples sent to the Indian Museum, where the experts were also astonished at the quality of these Sapphires. They were by far the best Sapphires that were ever seen. This was Music to the ears of the Maharaja and soon large scale mining of the Kashmir Sapphire started and it was soon on the wishlist of all the Maharajas and the Mem Saabs in the summer capital of British India, Simla. But exactly 5 years down the line after reaping great benefits the Mines seem to run out of Sapphires and the operation became unprofitable.
Gulabgarh, the main Village in Padar and the last Roadhead.
The Maharaja was alarmed and he invited experts from the Geological Survey of India to visit the Mines and give their expert advice. Tom D Latouche, the Deputy Superintendent of the Geological Survey of India led the team. And they managed to reach the Mines but not without some difficulty as the are to this day doesn't have Roads or Electricity and a 5 day walk apparently from the nearest Road head. He noted that the deposits in the Main Mine were almost exhausted and there was Mining activity a 100 meters below the main on the Valley floor. However the Sapphires from this location were inferior in quality to the Sapphires at the main Mine. However they did a study over a couple of months and made a detailed Report to the Maharaja. But it did nothing revive the Mining operations as the profitability was down as it seems the place had run out of Sapphires. Simple.
Typical topography of the area where the Sapphire Mines are located
Mining operations were shut down completely in 1889 till 1905 though Poachers would sometimes hit upon the Mines. In 1906 the Mines were leased out to a private Company who mined for 2 years without much success. And so the story carried on with a new Company / Individual taking the lease every few years and then walking out as it was just too costly because of the inhospitable terrain and overall remoteness. After Independence JK Minerals took the Mines and again a number of classified Surveys and Mappings were done of the area. But nothing much came out of it. Every few years the Government of Jammu and Kashmir comes out with a new Scheme to lease out the Mines but nothing really happens knowing the dysfunctionality of my State.
Sumcham, the last Village on the trail that leads to the Hagshu La and into Zanskar
In the meanwhile the Mines are Guarded by the Police and are strictly off limits for everyone. Well almost everyone if you know what I mean. No one is simply allowed in the area and though you will find the location on the Internet I have purposely left out the exact location and details of the Mines. People who need to know already know it. Anyways its off limits so nothing much can be done even if you know the place. I will let it rest at that.
Hence the value of Kashmir Sapphires has only gone up and few are seen outside of Museums and Private collections. They are simply not found anymore.
Kashmir Sapphires in ready as well as raw form.
Ah and coming back to Ronny. After going through more details Ronny was convinced this is the same Kashmir Sapphire which was stolen in Milan. Though reduced in Caratage (thieves normally do that and alter the shape of the Stone for obvious reasons) the characteristics mentioned in the certificate were exactly like his Stone. The Stone was withdrawn from the Auction but Ronny didnt stop there. Though he got insurance amount of around 1.8 Million dollars in 1996 after the Theft but he needed the culprits to be caught. As we speak now Ronny is fighting out in the Courts with present owners to get viewing of the Kashmir Sapphire and have it verified by independent experts. More on that when something happens.
Coming back to the Kashmir Sapphires and this is what a Gemologist says about them “The Sapphires of Kashmir form an exclusive class of their own. In the Jewel trade it is customary to attach the appellation 'Kashmir' to any fine Sapphire regardless of its geographical origin. This is an indication of the outstanding qualities of Kashmir Sapphires. The colour of these Sapphires resembles the beautiful hue of the peacock's neck. Even a small concentration of that fine colour illuminates the entire structure of the Gem.”
The Elusive Kashmir Sapphires